Arts & Culture

Bob Ross Gets the Recognition He Deserves

See your favorite happy little trees in person this fall at a new exhibition in Virginia that highlights the famous Southern (yes, really) artist

Photo: Courtesy of Bob Ross Inc.

In 1994, Bob Ross told talk show host Phil Donahue that his paintings would likely never hang in the Smithsonian, but it looks like the famous PBS painter may have spoken too soon. 

The Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. acquired four authentic Bob Ross paintings in March along with his original easel made from a step stool, paint brushes, and the palette used on The Joy of Painting, the now-classic public television show he hosted from 1983 to 1994, says Sarah Strohl, executive assistant at Bob Ross Inc., the company started by Ross that now manages his brand. When Strohl stumbled upon Ross’s quote about his work never hanging in the Smithsonian, she was inspired to land at least one of his paintings there. “It was through a love of Bob and also being like, ‘No Bob, you’re wrong. You need to be in the Smithsonian.”

Though the Smithsonian doesn’t yet have any plans to display the memorabilia, fans can still get a fix on September 10, when the Franklin Park Performing and Visual Arts Center in Purcellville, Virginia, about 40 miles west of Washington, opens “Happy Accidents: An Exhibit of Original Bob Ross Paintings.” Twenty four works will be on display through October 15.  With a population of less than 10,000 people, Purcellville may not seem the obvious choice for such a notable exhibit, but Ross, a Florida native, had a soft spot for the town. He frequented Purcellville to search for antiques and spent a considerable amount of time in nearby Herndon, Virginia, where his company is headquartered.

“Having his paintings bring so much interest and curiosity and visitors to this small little arts center in Virginia, that is absolutely perfect,” Strohl says. “I don’t think we could’ve asked for a better place to show so many of Bob’s paintings for the first time.” 

Seeing a Ross original in person is a rare treat, especially an exhibit of this size, so if you do find yourself in the presence of one of his paintings, Strohl suggests noting a few details. While Ross painted most of his works on a rectangular canvas, a unique oval painting makes an appearance in the Purcellville exhibit. That same piece also contains wildflowers, which aren’t often found in Ross’s landscapes. Observing the works in person also lets viewers notice the way the paint breaks over the mountains, the detailed bark that appears three dimensional, and ghostly trees nestled into the background. “I really encourage people to take a close look at the paintings,” she says, “because sometimes you can see little details that you can tell that Bob was just having a good time.” 

The exhibit is free; just reserve a ticket ahead of time. “I think a lot of people could use Bob Ross in their lives,” Strohl says.